What a week this has been!

We had our last worship services, our last seminar and wine and cheese after party,

and now the packing.

Standing: Hilda, Brendan, Jessica, Tonya. Seated: Sarah, Shirley, Anita

Standing: Hilda, Brendan, Jessica, Tonya. Seated: Sarah, Shirley, Anita

This afternoon, in zero degree temperatures, my camera said good-bye to my dear cottage by the lake.

Apartment #7 facing Stumpf Lake.

Apartment #7 facing Stumpf Lake.

Last night we celebrated Christmas lavishly.

Each scholar contributed the three elements of vocation expressed individually:

  • joy
  • talents and gifts
  • service to others

Artists painted, musicians sang and played, organizers instructed;

we each took a turn speaking, leading, praying, blessing.

Welcome speech. Note the banner with hand calligraphy.

Welcome speech. Note the banner designed by scholar Lynn. She also did hand calligraphy place cards. Photo: Carla Durand

Anita and Sarah lead us in Christmas carols.

Anita and Sarah lead us in Christmas carols.

Carla and Viv, staff members who know how to make work fun.

Carla and Viv, staff members who know how to make work fun. Photo: Anita Amstutz

Pondering: Collegeville Institute Director Don Ottenhoff and Professor Kathleen Cahalan, Saint John’s University.

Brothers Aaron and Wilfred -- full participants in the life of the Institute.

Brothers Aaron and Wilfred — full participants in the life of the Institute.

Hilda and Sister Ann Marie share in the laughter.

Hilda and Sister Ann Marie share in the laughter. Photo: Anita Amstutz














Benedictine hospitality is famous for a reason, and it is infectious.

We who came as strangers are leaving as beloved friends.

Have we accomplished all that we hoped?

 I can only speak for myself.

I wrote and published many essays this semester and have a few more in the hopper.

I interviewed monks and nuns.

I explored Central Minnesota and took two trips to the Twin Cities.


I’m packing up a lot of books I did not read.

And I have a list of blog post topics I haven’t gotten to. For example:

Modernist architecture designed by Marcel Breuer. How it influences the lived experience of this campus.

The story of how Saint John’s University birthed Minnesota Public Radio which also helped launch NPR itself and outstanding shows like The Prairie Home Companion and On Being.

A feature on Father Killian McDonnell, age 95, poet, and founder of the Collegeville Institute

Father Killian looking quite like his portrait on the wall.

Father Killian looking quite like his portrait on the wall.

Ha! The joke’s on me.

I didn’t have to write those essays.

If you click on the links above, you’ll find perfectly good stories already written.

Turns out, I don’t have to do everything I can think of!

That might be a good enough lesson for this Christmas season.

Can you let go of what remains undone in your life right now? Are you undergoing any bittersweet partings of your own?

Shirley Showalter


  1. Lisa Enqvist on December 14, 2016 at 12:19 am

    Partings, often without proper farewells, have been part of my life all too many times. I almost envy you for the time you’ve had there in Minnesota, where in a way I can say, my long life-journey started. (Mom and we five kids aged one to seven, had spent two months by a lake in Aurora, MN in 1946, before the arduous journey to China and around the world began.I was the one-year-old.) I wrote that story in a book, “Missionary Mother – around the World with Five kids” last year. I was to continue writing, but this year is almost gone with little done due to health issues. I have needed some ‘time-out’for rest so I can continue writing the rest of my story.

    • Shirley Showalter on December 14, 2016 at 9:21 am

      That kind of parting must be hard, Lisa. When there are too many, it’s hard to make them special occasions. I’m glad you got started telling your incredible story last year and that you come back here to tell us about it.

      Your need for time out for your health touches me. I hope you can return to your writing in the new year. I can tell how much it means to you!

      • Lisa Enqvist on December 14, 2016 at 11:21 am

        Thanks for your sympathetic reply.
        I’m learning new lessons all the time. Yesterday I received a link to TED, where Pico Iyer gave a new perspective on the global identity which more and more people are living in today. He said something like, when we put together each differing ‘status’ like a stained glass picture, it brings us to a new wholeness. http://www.ted.com/talks/pico_iyer_where_is_home
        That is something I hope to bring out in my writing. According to him the global community of people moving or living outside of their original fatherland will soon be larger than the population of the USA.
        I’m living in my home country now, but parts of me are built up of many other nations.

        Have a Blessed Christmas with your loved ones.

        • Shirley Showalter on December 14, 2016 at 3:10 pm

          Pico Ayer is a great author for those of us who look for both roots and wings and learn how to redefine them as new experiences teach us.

          He has written some great essays also. Good choice of mentor!

  2. Melodie Davis on December 14, 2016 at 11:32 am

    I like seeing Father Killian here with you, who was introduced to me through Dr. Glen Miller’s book, Living Thoughtfully, Dying Well, from the time(s?)Glen spent also at Collegeville. It has been wonderful to get a much better sense of the seasons and ambiance there in northern Minnesota. We’re cranking up the freezing temps here in Va. to welcome you back to the South. 🙂

    • Shirley Showalter on December 14, 2016 at 11:31 pm

      We got to Brookfield, WI, for the night, Melodie. My computer is SO cold from being in the car while we ate dinner. We’ve been in the deep freeze for the last week, are trying to stay ahead of the storm that will hit the midwest on the weekend –and get home to Virginia with ourselves and our carfull intact.

      I’ll have to go back and see what Glen says about Father Killian in his book. I felt very privileged to spend time with him.

  3. Elfrieda Neufeld Schroeder on December 14, 2016 at 11:55 am

    Farewells are difficult because of all that you have experienced and the people you leave behind. I know this from my own wanderings for most of my life. But with each leaving you build up you memory bank and you have such a rich source from which to draw for thinking, writing, story telling, etc. Welcome back, Shirley. I look forward to the sharing you will continue to do from your memory bank!

    • Shirley Showalter on December 15, 2016 at 8:58 am

      “With each leaving you build a memory bank.” Yes. Well said.

      Thank you for this reminder of the gain with the pain and the gift of memory itself.

      We take memory for granted. May you be refreshed by memories from your bank this Christmas, Elfrieda.

  4. Marian Beaman on December 14, 2016 at 12:57 pm

    Blest Be the Ties that Binds is a hymn title that comes to mind reading your post today. What a rare privilege to set aside an entire semester to step into a world of contemplation and new friendship. Through your blog, I “met” Anita and we corresponded about her love/respect for bees. Your spiritual connections with each one will continue far into the future, for you have contributed much to their lives too, perhaps as the wise “older sister,” I surmise.

    About your questions: The Big Move and other property concerns has taken the bulk of 2016. I am happy to have this (mostly) behind us, so I can concentrate on other priorities. Interestingly, Cliff and I found pages of “goals” from years past. Some we achieved; others were incomplete or became irrelevant. My next projects include an updated website and moving the memoir project forward. I have exchanged my manuscript with an author/friend who is in a similar stage of development, but with her second book. We are calling it a pre-Beta read.

    Because I am goal-oriented like you, I have misgivings about things undone. You know: that PA Dutch work ethic, more doing than being!

    Am I undergoing an bittersweet partings? Yes, one of my beloved relatives is in hospice care now. . . . (tears)

    One thing I know for sure: Stuart will be overjoyed to have you back!

    • Shirley Showalter on December 15, 2016 at 9:08 am

      Yes, Stuart and I are both happier together. So good to reunite. He helped make the move out of the apartment much easier and does most of the driving as we make our way across the country. He also made lots of visits to EMU alumni in the midwest during my last week.

      Your lists and your evaluation of them made me chuckle. It is hard to let go of any items without a check beside them. But there’s always a way to be creative. In my case, it really helped me to find online links to the stories I would have written. That way, when I search my own site, I can remember the SJU/MPR/NPR story, for example, which is one of the reasons I blog. Archiving and aggregating experience.

      Did you see Jane Friedman’s blog post on five web WP themes the professional writer should consider? Might be good timing for you.

      I sense that this was a year of re-orientation that will help you plunge into the New Year with gusto. And yet with grief for the friend you are losing. Blest be the ties that bind indeed.

      As I said to Sister Ann Marie: “I hope to see you again on this side or the other.” She replied, “Definitely on the other!”

      • Marian Beaman on December 15, 2016 at 7:18 pm

        Thank you: I have bookmarked Jane Friedman’s blog post on themes. 🙂

  5. Sue Shoemaker on December 14, 2016 at 12:57 pm

    Makes me think of the lyrics of one of my all-time favorite songs:

    ”Memories may be beautiful and yet
    What’s too painful to remember we simply choose to forget
    So it’s the laughter we will remember
    Whenever we remember the way we were.”

    My best friend from college died in March, and my older brother died in November…two people who “shared” memories from specific times in my life. It is the laughter I choose to remember.

    • Shirley Showalter on December 15, 2016 at 9:12 am

      Yes, its the laughter we remember even after the jokes are forgotten. We can’t laugh and be self-absorbed at the same time. And when we forget ourselves enough to laugh, we join spirits with others we will remember as kindred. I’m so grateful for these photos for that reason.

      I’m so sorry for your losses this year, Sue. They are deep ones. I hope your dreams of them, waking and sleeping, ring with laughter.

  6. Dolores Nice-Siegenthaler on December 14, 2016 at 1:10 pm

    I love that you discovered you could let go of some of the article-writing and reading. I imagine you spent more time in the oral world where experience and relationship dominate. Thank you for the photos that communicate so much of the sweet sorrows around saying goodbye.

    Since I, as a Mennonite/Presbyterian, have made the Ignatian exercises several times and have been a Benedictine lurk-er, including reading and practicing the rule of Benedict, I love hearing about your experiences diving into an inter-denominational community.

    • Shirley Showalter on December 15, 2016 at 9:16 am

      What an insight about the oral world, Dolores. Yes, I found it exciting to sit in 2.5 hour seminars each week, teasing out ideas in an effort to help other writers. And our informal gathering were just as important. I also spent many mornings in absolute silence and most days were more silent than oral. I loved it.

      You probably have a number of Catholic retreat centers in the Bay Area. I hope you get a chance to find your own version of the Institute. You are a perfect candidate for ecumenical dialogue and experience!

  7. Laurie Buchanan on December 14, 2016 at 1:12 pm

    Shirley — What strikes me most about this post is the list of positive, uplifting, constructive, and healing ingredients sprinkled throughout: joy, using one’s talents and gifts, service to others, giving and receiving blessings, and infectious hospitality. And they’re evidenced on each and every face in the photographs you shared. No wonder it’s hard to say good-bye!

    • Shirley Showalter on December 15, 2016 at 9:18 am

      Yes, Laurie. You have a practiced eye in seeing the many signs of hope and love in our midst. We went through election night and the following days together, and it bonded us even more. Making refugee welcome kits helped. And eventually the laughter came back.

      I too see it in all these faces.

  8. Anita Amstutz on December 14, 2016 at 8:19 pm

    Thank you Shirley! You said it so well. I think it shall stand for my farewells.

    • Shirley Showalter on December 15, 2016 at 9:19 am

      Thanks, dear Anita. Please note all the appreciation for your lovely photos above. I’m honored that you chose to share.

  9. Merril Smith on December 14, 2016 at 9:25 pm

    Shirley, it seems that you’ve had a wonderful experience and made many new friends. I laughed to myself when you mentioned the things you had not done–compared to all you have done. You can write those essays whenever you want, but you certainly would not have had the experiences you had without having had made this journey (and I mean that in both a physical and spiritual sense). Wishing you a safe journey home.

    • Shirley Showalter on December 15, 2016 at 9:25 am

      Yes, Merril, you describe the experience well as a physical and spiritual journey. The 2,500-acre arboretum, with its many trails around the lakes, made the metaphorical part and the physical part come together. So incredibly beautiful.

      And yes, I do plan to write one more article soon. If that one and the other I just submitted get published, I will have tripled the output I proposed originally. And, of course, that we make me feel ever so good. 🙂

  10. Sue McFadden on December 15, 2016 at 7:42 am

    Thanks Shirley for sharing your Fall experience at Collegville. Partings are such sweet sorrow, bittersweet! Last year in my quest for spiritual learning I came upon the writings of Sister Joan Chittister, specifically Essential Writings, and the Benedictine teachings. Powerful stuff! It was wonderful to find out she grew up in a small PA town about an hour away from me. Thank you also for your weekly blog posts. I may not always reply but love to read them for the gems you share. Happy Holidays to you and yours….. Still on my painting adventures, my form of writing. Sue

    • Shirley Showalter on December 15, 2016 at 9:28 am

      Dear Sue, I have Sister Joan’s book about 21st Century applications of Benedict’s Rule with me in my closest bags. She’s great, and yes, her monastery is in PA. Maybe you’ll get to visit some day?

      I handled The Art of Seeing book with regret as I boxed it up to take back home. Alas, it is on the list of things not YET accomplished or experienced. The whole visual side of me still wants more food and more expression. My iPhone photos were as close as I came to nurturing that side of myself. But if God grants me more time, . . .

      • Sue McFadden on December 15, 2016 at 10:16 pm

        No worries Shirley! ‘It’ all comes around when it is ready (so my angels tell me). I forgot to mention how much I equally enjoyed your photos! Blessings to you!

  11. June on December 15, 2016 at 7:43 am

    I have plenty of UFO’S. (Un-Finished Object) Things i have on my rountuit list.
    You asked if there were any bittersweet parting. There is one, and it has been overwhelming. My Mom passed away on December 10. Her loss has been bitter, however the memories I have of her over my lifetime are sweet.

    • Shirley Showalter on December 15, 2016 at 9:31 am

      June, I laughed out loud at this one: “I have plenty of UFO’S. (Un-Finished Object) Things i have on my rountuit list.”

      Then, o my, the thought that you lost your mother, just five days ago!

      May you be held in the everlasting arms and may those memories come to you in your tears.

  12. Richard Gilbert on December 15, 2016 at 11:39 am

    Wonderful post and photos, Shirley. And, as usual, a good question. I ended yesterday an uber fruitful period of shared reading with a colleague, our schedules changing. We have been trading work electronically and meeting in person too, to discuss and praise and offer suggestions about our shared work. Yesterday’s final session, for now, was typical: we talked in a restaurant from 9:30 to 2, eating both a late breakfast and our lunch there. How I will miss it, but am grateful I had the sense to know the period was special. A saving grace of aging? That we know “this too shall pass”?

    • Shirley Showalter on December 16, 2016 at 8:39 pm

      Richard, that kind of writing partner/friend sounds wonderful. I’m so glad you experienced “flow” in your conversation and your work so that time itself disappeared. Such a grace — even if it happens only once. I too am glad you have had that kind of companionship. Yes, there is an aging component to this kind of experience. With increased years we know that nothing lasts forever, and because that is true, we must savor all the graces in our lives.

      Hope you can find a way to continue this kind of partnership into the years to come. Thanks for offering a glimpse into a kind of parting that includes both gratitude and hope.

  13. Elaine Mansfield on December 17, 2016 at 11:00 am

    I’ve enjoyed observing a little of your community of scholars, seekers, and friends. I imagine the gifts of this experience will flow for many years.

    There is much unfinished as Winter Solstice knocks on the door. The book that never quite took shape, but seems to be morphing into something else. The articles conceived but never completed. The slides not yet sorted and digitalized. Yet much changed this year and quite a few articles were finished and published. Many old boxes were sorted in preparation for distributing photos to family. I also want to accept a new slowness in getting through life’s unending tasks. Some days, it’s more important to take a walk, see a friend, sing a song, or hug a tree.

    Blessed Solstice, Shirley. Have a delightful Christmas with your family.

    • Shirley Hershey Showalter on December 20, 2016 at 7:54 pm

      Elaine, I thought of you today when the sunset cast a wondrous pre-solstice glow over the bush next to our back yard. I rushed outside without a coat so that I could take a picture. You have been my teacher in observing the heart of darkness and the gradual return of the light.

      Accepting a new slowness is not easy for either of us, I sense, but I want to join you in continuing to aspire to more than I can do but also aspire to letting the many unfinished tasks just be.

      Blessed Solstice to you, too!

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